Nazism and cinema

Nazism created an elaborate system of propaganda, which made use of the new technologies of the 20th century, including cinema. Nazism courted the masses by the means of slogans that were aimed directly at the instincts and emotions of the people. The Nazis valued film as a propaganda instrument of enormous power. The interest that Adolf Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels took in film was not only the result of a personal fascination. The use of film for propaganda had been planned by the National Socialist German Workers Party as early as 1930, when the party first established a film department.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1990-1002-500, Besuch von Hitler und Goebbels bei der UFA retouched
Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and others watch filming at Ufa, 1935.


The Nazis were early aware of the propagandistic effect of movies and already in 1920 the issues of the Racial Observer included film criticism.[1] The SS-philosopher Walter Julius Bloem published the book "The Soul of the Cinema -- A Commitment to the Movies" in 1922[2].

In September 1923 Philipp Nickel produced a documentary of the “German Day in Nuremberg” where the “Battle-League” was founded, shortly before the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler wrote about the psychological effect of images in Mein Kampf:

One must also remember that of itself the multitude is mentally inert, that it remains attached to its old habits and that it is not naturally prone to read something which does not conform with its own pre-established beliefs when such writing does not contain what the multitude hopes to find there. …
The picture, in all its forms, including the film, has better prospects. … In a much shorter time, at one stroke I might say, people will understand a pictorial presentation of something which it would take them a long and laborious effort of reading to understand.[3]

A comprehensive critique of the film industry was published by the Nazi economist Hans Buchner in 1927 with the title "Spellbound by Movies. The Global Dominance of the Cinema"[4]. Further short Nazi films about party rallies were made in 1927-1929. The first NSDAP film office was established in 1931, and started producing "documentaries" in a larger scale, e. g., in 1932 "Hitlers Kampf um Deutschland" (Hitler's fight for Germany), "Blutendes Deutschland" (Germany is bleeding), "Das junge Deutschland marschiert" (The German Youth is on the March).[5] Herbert Gerdes directed the following five Nazi propaganda films: Erbkrank (1936), Alles Leben ist Kampf (1937), Was du Ererbt (1938), Schuld oder Schein (1921), and Das Große Geheimnis (1920).[6][7]

Nazi propagandist Hans Traub, who had earned his Phd in 1925 with a dissertation on the press and the German revolutions of 1848–49, wrote in the essay "The film as a political instrument" in 1932:

Without any doubt the film is a formidable means of propaganda. Achieving propagandistic influence has always demanded a ‘language’ which forms a memorable and passionate plot with a simple narrative. … In the vast area of such ’language’ that the recipients are directly confronted by in the course of technical and economical processes, the most effective is the moving picture. It demands permanent alertness; it’s full of surprises concerning the change of time, space, and action; it has an unimaginable richness of rhythm for intensifying or dispelling emotions.[8]

Goals of the Nazi film policy

Goebbels, who appointed himself "Patron of the German film", assumed, accurately, that a national cinema which was entertaining and put glamour on the government would be a more effective propaganda instrument than a national cinema in which the NSDAP and their policy would have been ubiquitous. Goebbels emphasized the will to end the "shamelessness and tastelessness" that he thought could be found in the former movie industry.[9] The main goal of the Nazi film policy was to promote escapism, which was designed to distract the population and to keep everybody in good spirits; Goebbels indeed blamed defeat in World War I on the failure to sustain the morale of the people.[10]

The open propaganda was reserved for films like Der Sieg des Glaubens and Triumph des Willens, records of the Nuremberg rallies, and newsreels. There are some examples of German feature films from the Third Reich that deal with the NSDAP or with party organizations such as the Sturmabteilung, Hitler Youth or the National Labour Service, one notable example being Hitlerjunge Quex about the Hitler Youth. Another example is the anti-semitic feature film Jew Suss. The propaganda films that refer directly to Nazi politics amounted to less than a sixth of the whole national film production, which mainly consisted of light entertainment films.

For conceiving a Nazi film theory, Goebbels suggested as formative material the Hamburg Dramaturgy and Laokoon, or the Limitations of Poetry by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and also demanded "realistic characters" pointing to Shakespeare.[11] Goebbels emphasized Lessing's idea that "not only imagining per se, but purposeful imagining, would prove the creative mind".[12]

Emil Jannings wrote in 1942 in the National Socialist Monthly about the goal of showing men and women who can master their own fate as models for identification.[13] The authorities and NSDAP departments in charge of film policy were the film department of the Ministry of Propaganda, the Chamber of Culture (Reichskulturkammer), the Chamber of Film (Reichsfilmkammer), and the film department of the Party Propaganda Department (Reichspropagandaleitung).

A system of "award" was used to encourage self-censorship; awarded for such things as "cultural value" or "value to the people", they remitted part of the heavy taxes on films.[14] Up to a third of the films in the Third Reich received such awards.[14]

Measures of the Nazi film policy

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-04062A, Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, SA- und SS-Appell
The Totenehrung (honouring of dead) at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. SS leader Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler and SA leader Viktor Lutze (from L to R) on the stone terrace; from Triumph of the Will directed by Leni Riefenstahl.

To subdue film to the goals of propaganda (Gleichschaltung), the Nazi Party subordinated the entire film industry and administration under Joseph Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda, and gradually nationalized film production and distribution. A state-run professional school for politically reliable film-makers (Deutsche Filmakademie Babelsberg) was founded, and membership of an official professional organization (Reichsfilmkammer) was made mandatory for all actors, film-makers, distributors, etc. The censorship that had already been established during World War I and the Weimar Republic was increased, with a National Film Dramaturgist (Reichsfilmdramaturg) pre-censoring all manuscripts and screenplays at the very first stages of production. Film criticism was prohibited and a national film award established.

A film bank (Filmkreditbank GmbH) was established to provide low-interest loans for the production of politically welcome films, and such films also received tax benefits.

Film production

In the mid-1930s, the German film industry suffered the most severe crisis it had ever faced. There were multiple reasons for this crisis. Firstly, many of the most capable actors and film-makers had left the country after the rise to power of the Nazi government; others had been banned by the new Reichsfilmkammer.

These people left a gap that the film industry could not easily fill. Secondly, the remaining actors and film-makers seized the opportunity to demand higher salaries, which considerably increased production budgets. Consequently, it became more and more difficult to recover production costs. Thirdly, the export of German films dramatically dropped due to international boycotts. In 1933, exports had covered 44% of film production costs; by 1937, this figure had dropped to a mere 7%.

More and more production companies went bankrupt. The number of companies dropped from 114 (1933–35) to 79 (1936–38) to 38 (1939–41). This did not necessarily lead to a decrease in the number of new films, as surviving production companies became more prolific, producing many more films. Nazi companies went on to produce co-productions with companies of other countries: eight co-productions with the Kingdom of Italy, six co-productions with the French Third Republic, five co-productions with the Kingdom of Hungary, 5 co-productions with Czechoslovakia, 3 co-productions with Switzerland, two co-productions with the Second Polish Republic and the Empire of Japan (e. g., The Daughter of the Samurai), and one each with Francoist Spain, the United States,the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and Sweden.[15]

The consolidation of the film industry benefited the Nazi government. On the one hand, an ailing and unprofitable film industry would not have been of much use for the propaganda requirements. And on the other hand, a small number of big film production companies were easier to control than a multitude of small ones. Goebbels went even further and directed a holding company – Cautio Treuhand GmbH – to buy up the stock majorities of the remaining film production companies.

State subsidies to the film industry resulted in improved production values: average film production costs quintupled from 250,000 ℛℳ in 1933[16] (equivalent to 982,146 in 2009) to 1,380,000 ℛℳ in 1942 (equivalent to €4,903,275 in 2009). Ticket sales within the Reich quadrupled from 250 million in 1933 to more than a billion in 1942.[16] Box office sales more than doubled from 441 million ℛℳ in 1938 (equivalent to 2 billion 2009 €) to over 1 billion ℛℳ in 1942 (equivalent to 4 billion 2009 €).

In 1937, the Cautio acquired the largest German production company, Universum Film AG, and in 1942 merged this company with the remaining companies – Terra Film, Tobis, Bavaria Film, Wien-Film and Berlin-Film – into the so-called Ufi-Group. With one stroke, the entire German film industry had been practically nationalized but remained nominally a private industry. Goebbels founded the Filmkreditbank GmbH in order to fund the industry but the funds came from private investors. The industry was forced to remain profitable to produce films that met the expectations of the audience.

Ufi was a successful, vertically integrated monopoly, covering the entire European film market under German hegemony, with foreign imports cut off.[16] The company's profits surged, reaching 155 million ℛℳ in 1942 (equivalent to 551 million 2009 €) and 175 million ℛℳ in 1943 (equivalent to 606 million 2009 €).

Award-winning films

Officially honored films considered by the Third Reich to be "artistically valuable" (German: künstlerisch wertvoll) by the state (* = predicate "special political value" - introduced in 1934, ** = predicate "film of the nation" - introduced in 1941):

Year Title

S.A.-Mann Brand (dir. Franz Seitz, Sr.)
Hitlerjunge Quex (film) i. e., Hitler Youth Quex (dir. Hans Steinhoff)
Reifende Jugend i. e., Maturing Youth (dir. Carl Froelich)
Flüchtlinge i. e., Refugees (dir. Gustav Ucicky)


Ich für dich, du für mich i. e., I for you, you for me (dir. Carl Froelich)
Der Schimmelreiter i. e., The Rider on the White Horse (dir. Curt Oertel, Hans Deppe), based on the novella by Theodor Storm
Der verlorene Sohn i. e., The Prodigal Son (dir. Luis Trenker)
Der Herr der Welt i. e., Master of the World (dir. Harry Piel)
*Stoßtrupp 1917 i. e., Shock Troop 1917 (dir. Hans Zöberlein, Ludwig Schmid-Wildy)
Krach um Jolanthe i. e., Trouble with Jolanthe (dir. Carl Froelich), based on a book by August Hinrichs


*Hermine und die sieben Aufrechten i. e., Hermine and the Seven Upright Men (dir. Frank Wisbar)
Liebesleute - Hermann und Dorothea von Heute i. e., A Pair of Lovers - Hermann and Dorothea of today (dir. Erich Waschneck)
Mazurka (dir. Willi Forst)
Artisten (dir. Harry Piel)
Liebe geht - wohin sie will i. e., Love goes - wherever it wants to (dir. Kurt Skalden)
*Der alte und der junge König i. e., The old and the young King (dir. Hans Steinhoff)
*Das Mädchen Johanna i. e., Lass Joan (dir. Gustav Ucicky), a film about the French heroine Joan of Arc
Friesennot i. e., Frisians in Hardship (dir. Willi Krause)
Henker, Frauen und Soldaten i. e., Hangmen, Women and Soldiers (dir. Johannes Meyer), a film about two cousins, one fighting on the German side in the Freikorps, the other fighting on the bolshevist (proto-soviet) side
*Liselotte von der Pfalz i. e., The Private Life of Louis XIV (dir. Carl Froelich), about Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess of the Palatinate
Papageno (dir. Lotte Reiniger)
*Der höhere Befehl i. e., The Higher Command (dir. Gerhard Lamprecht)


Das Schönheitsfleckchen i. e., The Beauty Spot (dir. Rolf Hansen)
*Traumulus i. e., The Dreamer (dir. Carl Froelich)
Drei Mäderl um Schubert i. e., Three Girls around Schubert (dir. E. W. Emo), based on a novel by Rudolf Hans Bartsch
Stadt Anatol i. e., City of Anatol (dir. Victor Tourjansky)
Stärker als Paragraphen i. e., Stronger than Paragraphs (dir. Jürgen von Alten)
Wenn der Hahn kräht i. e., When the cock crows (dir. Carl Froelich)
Schlußakkord i. e., Final Chord (dir. Douglas Sirk)
Savoy Hotel 217 (dir. Gustav Ucicky), a crime story in the Russian Empire
Fährmann Maria i. e., Ferryman Maria (dir. Frank Wisbar)
Glückskinder i. e., Lucky Kids (dir. Paul Martin)
90 Minuten Aufenthalt i. e., 90-Minute-Stopver (dir. Harry Piel), a real time film about two friends, a German and a British criminal investigator who solve a case in Lisbon
Der Dschungel ruft i. e., The Jungle Calls (dir. Harry Piel)
Der Bettelstudent i. e., The Beggar Student (dir. Georg Jacoby), based on the play by Carl Millöcker
Allotria i. e., Tomfoolery (dir. Willi Forst)
*Der Kaiser von Kalifornien i. e., The Kaiser of California (dir. Luis Trenker)
*Verräter i. e., The Traitor (dir. Karl Ritter)
*Wenn wir alle Engel wären i. e., If We All Were Angels (dir. Carl Froelich)


*Der Herrscher i. e., The Sovereign (dir. Veit Harlan)
*Patrioten i. e., Patriots (dir. Karl Ritter)
Mein Sohn, der Herr Minister i. e., My Son, the Government Minister (dir. Veit Harlan), a comedy making fun of the parliamentary system
Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war i. e., The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes (dir. Karl Hartl)
Gewitterflug zu Claudia i. e., Stormy flight to Claudia (dir. Erich Waschneck)
*Der zerbrochene Krug i. e., The Broken Jug (dir. Gustav Ucicky), based on the play by Heinrich von Kleist
*Condottieri (dir. Luis Trenker, Werner Klingler), about Cesare Borgia and Caterina Sforza
*Die Tochter des Samurai i. e., The Daughter of the Samurai (dir. Arnold Fanck, Mansaku Itami)
*Urlaub auf Ehrenwort (dir. Karl Ritter)


Revolutionshochzeit i. e., Revolution-Marriage (dir. Hans Heinz Zerlett)
*Heimat (dir. Carl Froelich)
Der Berg ruft i. e., The Mountain Calls (dir. Luis Trenker), about the first ascent of the Matterhorn; based on a novel by Carl Haensel
Das Verlegenheitskind (dir. Peter Paul Brauer)
Der Fall Deruga i. e., The Deruga Case (dir. Fritz Peter Buch), based on a novel by Ricarda Huch
Mit versiegelter Order (dir. Karl Anton)
Liebelei und Liebe i. e., Flirtation and Love (dir. Arthur Maria Rabenalt)
Napoleon ist an allem schuld i. e., Napoleon Is to Blame for Everything (dir. Curt Goetz), about a man who studies Napoleon's biography and therefore neglects his wife
Geheimzeichen LB 17 i. e., Secret Code LB 17 (dir. Victor Tourjansky)
Verwehte Spuren i. e., Covered Tracks, (dir. Veit Harlan)
Verklungene Melodie i. e., Faded Melody, (dir. Victor Tourjansky)
Tanz auf dem Vulkan i. e., Dance on the Volcano (dir. Hans Steinhoff), about Jean-Gaspard Deburau
*Der Katzensteg (dir. Fritz Peter Buch)
*Kautschuk i. e., Caoutchouc (dir. Eduard von Borsody)
Die Umwege des schönen Karl i. e., The Roundabouts of Handsome Karl (dir. Carl Froelich)
*Pour le Mérite (dir. Karl Ritter)


Es war eine rauschende Ballnacht i. e., It was an Amazing Night at the Ball (dir. Carl Froelich), a film about the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Der Schritt vom Wege i. e., The False Step (dir. Gustaf Gründgens), based on the novel Effi Briest by Theodor Storm
Flucht ins Dunkel i. e., Escape in the Dark (dir. Arthur Maria Rabenalt)
*Aufruhr in Damaskus i. e., Uproar in Damascus (dir. Gustav Ucicky)
Ein ganzer Kerl i. e., A Real Man (dir. Fritz Peter Buch)
Johannisfeuer i. e., Midsummer Night's Fire (dir. Arthur Maria Rabenalt), based on the book by Hermann Sudermann
Der Florentiner Hut i. e., The Leghorn Hat (dir. Wolfgang Liebeneiner), based on the play Un Chapeau de paille d'Italie by Eugène Marin Labiche
Befreite Hände i. e., Liberated Hands (dir. Hans Schweikart)
Männer müssen so sein i. e., Men Have To Be That Way (dir. Arthur Maria Rabenalt)
Hotel Sacher (dir. Erich Engel)
Opernball i. e., Opera Ball (dir. Géza von Bolváry)
*Robert Koch, der Bekämpfer des Todes i. e., Robert Koch, fighting death (dir. Hans Steinhoff)
*Mutterliebe i. e., A Mother's Love (dir. Gustav Ucicky)


Der Postmeister i. e., The Postmaster (dir. Gustav Ucicky)
*Wunschkonzert i. e., Request Concert (dir. Eduard von Borsody)
Wiener G'schichten i. e., Vienna Tales (dir. Géza von Bolváry)
Die Geierwally i. e., The Vulture Wally (dir. Hans Steinhoff), based on a novel by Wilhelmine von Hillern
Das Herz der Königin i. e., The Heart of the Queen (dir. Carl Froelich), about Mary, Queen of Scots
*Friedrich Schiller – Der Triumph eines Genies i. e., Friedrich Schiller – The Triumph of a Genius (dir. Herbert Maisch)
*Feinde i. e., Enemies (dir. Victor Tourjansky)
*Jud Süß (dir. Veit Harlan)
*Bismarck (dir. Wolfgang Liebeneiner)


Friedemann Bach (dir. Traugott Müller), a film about Johann Sebastian Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
Ich klage an i. e., I accuse (dir. Wolfgang Liebeneiner)
*Mein Leben für Irland i. e., My Life for Ireland (dir. Max W. Kimmich)
*Kampfgeschwader Lützow (dir. Hans Bertram)
*Annelie (dir. Josef von Báky)
Auf Wiedersehn, Franziska i. e., Goodbye, Franziska (dir. Helmut Käutner)
Quax, der Bruchpilot (dir. Kurt Hoffmann)
*Kopf hoch, Johannes! i. e., Cheer up, Johannes! (dir. Viktor de Kowa)
Operette i. e., Operetta (dir. Willi Forst), about Franz Jauner and the establishment of the Viennese Operetta
Immer nur Du i. e., You, always (dir. Karl Anton)
Die schwedische Nachtigall i. e., The Swedish Nightingale (dir. Peter Paul Brauer), about Jenny Lind and Hans Christian Andersen
*Komödianten i. e., The Comedians (dir. Georg Wilhelm Pabst)
**Ohm Krüger (dir. Hans Steinhoff)
**Heimkehr i. e., Coming Home (dir. Gustav Ucicky)


Wiener Blut i. e., Vienna Blood (dir. Willi Forst), a romantic comedy film about the Congress of Vienna
*Zwei in einer großen Stadt i. e., Two in a Big City (dir. Volker von Collande)
Die goldene Stadt i. e., The Golden City (dir. Veit Harlan)
Rembrandt (dir. Hans Steinhoff), about the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn
Der große Schatten i. e., The Great Shadow (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
Kleine Residenz i. e., Little residence (dir. Hans Heinz Zerlett)
*Hände hoch! i. e., Hands Up! (dir. Alfred Weidenmann)
*Diesel (dir. Gerhard Lamprecht), about Rudolf Diesel
Meine Frau Teresa i. e., My Wife Theresa (dir. Arthur Maria Rabenalt)
*Andreas Schlüter (dir. Herbert Maisch), about sculptor and architect Andreas Schlüter
*Wen die Götter lieben i. e., Whom the Gods Love (dir. Karl Hartl), about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
*Der Strom i. e., The River (dir. Günther Rittau)
Die Nacht in Venedig i. e., The Night in Venice (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
*Die große Liebe i. e., The Great Love (dir. Rolf Hansen)
**Der große König i. e., The Great King (dir. Veit Harlan)
**Die Entlassung i. e., The Dismissal (dir. Wolfgang Liebeneiner)
Wir machen Musik i. e., We Make Music (dir. Helmut Käutner), about a composer whose idols are Johann Sebastian Bach and the like, but who himself fails as a composer of Art music and then succeeds making popular music


Sophienlund (dir. Heinz Rühmann)
Romanze in Moll i. e., Romance in a Minor Key (dir. Helmut Käutner)
Der ewige Klang i. e., The Eternal Sound (dir. Günther Rittau), about two brothers, a violinist and a violin maker, guest star: Georges Boulanger, singing: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Frauen sind keine Engel i. e., Women are not Angels (dir. Willi Forst)
Immensee (dir. Veit Harlan), based on the novella by Theodor Storm
*Germanin - Die Geschichte einer kolonialen Tat i. e., Germanin - the history of a colonial deed (dir. Max W. Kimmich, Luis Trenker), about the development of Suramin "to save Africa" from trypanosomiasis
Altes Herz wird wieder jung i. e., Old heart rejuvenated (dir. Erich Engel)
Armer Hansi i. e., Poor Hansi (dir. Gerhard Fieber), animated film by the Deutsche Zeichentrickfilme G.m.b.H
Zirkus Renz (dir. Arthur Maria Rabenalt), about the Circus Renz
Damals i. e., Back Then (dir. Rolf Hansen)
*Wien 1910 i. e., Vienna 1910 (dir. E. W. Emo), about the mayor of Vienna Karl Lueger
*Paracelsus (dir. Georg Wilhelm Pabst), about the Swiss German philosopher Paracelsus
Ein glücklicher Mensch i. e., A joyful person (dir. Paul Verhoeven), about a famous chemistry professor, based on the play "Swedenhielms" by Hjalmar Bergman
Der weiße Traum i. e., The White Dream (dir. Géza von Cziffra)
Großstadtmelodie i. e., Melody of a Great City (dir. Wolfgang Liebeneiner)
*Der unendliche Weg i. e., The Endless Road (dir. Hans Schweikart)


Der gebieterische Ruf i. e., The Masterful Calling (dir. Gustav Ucicky)
Die Feuerzangenbowle i. e., The Punch Bowl (dir. Helmut Weiss)
*Philharmoniker i. e., Philharmonic (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
Träumerei i. e., Dreaming (dir. Harald Braun), about Robert Schumann
Das Herz muss schweigen (dir. Gustav Ucicky)
Familie Buchholz i. e., The Buchholz Family (dir. Carl Froelich), based on a novel by Julius Stinde
Orientexpreß i. e., Orient Express (dir. Victor Tourjansky)
Neigungsehe i. e., Marriage of Affection (dir. Carl Froelich)
Opfergang i. e., Way of Sacrifice (dir. Veit Harlan)


**Kolberg (dir. Veit Harlan)

Film distribution

A concentration also took place in the distribution field. In 1942, the Ufa-owned Deutsche Filmvertriebs GmbH (DFV) took the place of all companies so far remaining. For the export of films to foreign countries special companies had been established such as the Cinéma Film AG.

Since the days of the Weimar Republic, there had also existed an extensive system of educational film hire services which was extended under the Nazi administration. In 1943, there were 37 regional services and 12,042 city services. In parallel, the Party Propaganda Department (Reichspropagandaleitung) ran its own network of educational film hire services which included 32 Gaue, 171 district, and 22,357 local services. All film hire services had extensive film collections as well as rental 16 mm film projectors available that made it possible to show films in any class or lecture room and at any group meeting of the Hitler Youth.


Apart from the Ufa-owned cinema chain, the cinemas were not nationalized. The majority of the 5,506 cinemas that existed in 1939 within the so-called Altreich (the "Old Reich", i. e., Germany without Austria and the Sudetenland) were small companies run by private owners. However, a large number of rules and regulations issued by the Reichsfilmkammer limited the entrepreneurial freedom of the cinemas considerably. For instance, it was mandatory to include a documentary and a newsreel in every film programme. By a law of 1933 (the Gesetz über die Vorführung ausländischer Bildstreifen vom 23. Juni 1933) the government was also entitled to prohibit the presentation of foreign films. An import quota for foreign films had been set during the Weimar Republic, and during World War II, the import of films from certain foreign countries was completely prohibited. For example, from 1941 onwards, the presentation of American films became illegal.

A quantitative comparison of the percentage of German movies screened vs. foreign movies screened shows the following numbers: in the last year of the Weimar Republic the percentage of German movies was 62,2%, and in 1939 in the Third Reich it was 77,1% while the number of cinema visits increased by the factor 2.5 from 1933 to 1939; on the contrary the percentage of for example American movies screened was reduced from 25,8% in 1932 to 13,9% in 1939; from 1933 to 1937 eleven US movies were considered "artistically valuable" by the Nazi authorities (e. g., The Lives of a Bengal Lancer).[17]

In order to boost the propaganda effect, the Nazis supported film shows in large cinemas with large audiences where the feeling of being part of the crowd was so overwhelming for the individual spectator that critical film perception had little chance. Film shows also took place in military barracks and factories. The Hitler Youth arranged special film programmes (Jugendfilmstunden) where newsreels and propaganda films were shown. In order to supply even rural and remote areas with film shows, the Party Propaganda Department (Reichspropagandaleitung) operated 300 film trucks and two film trains that carried all the necessary equipment for showing films in, for example, village inns. The Nazis intended to use television as a medium for their propaganda once the number of television sets was increased, but television was able initially to reach only a small number of viewers, in contrast to radio. Only a small number of the Einheitsempfänger TV also called People's TV, were produced.

Film propaganda had the highest priority in Germany even under the severe conditions of the last years of World War II. While schools and playhouses stopped working in 1944, cinemas continued to operate until the very end of the war. In Berlin for instance, anti-aircraft units were posted specially to protect the local cinemas in 1944.

Star system

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2004-0061, Marika Rökk
Marika Rökk with fan mail, c. 1940.

There always had been film stars in Germany, but a star system comparable to the star system in Hollywood did not yet exist. Various Nazi leaders denounced the star system as a Jewish invention.[18] However, in order to improve the image of Nazi Germany, Goebbels made great efforts to form a star system.[19] After Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo had gone to Hollywood and could not be persuaded to serve the National Socialist film industry as figureheads, new film stars were promoted.

The best-known example is the Swedish actress Zarah Leander who was hired in 1937 by Ufa and became the most prominent and highest-paid German film star in only a few years. The publicity campaign for Leander was run by the press office of the Ufa, which concealed her past as a film actress already well known in Sweden and put their money right away on her charisma as a singer with an exceptionally deep voice. The Ufa press office provided the newspapers with detailed instructions on how the new star would have to be presented, and even the actress herself had to follow detailed instructions whenever she appeared in public. This kind of star publicity had not existed in Germany before.

Prominent politicians such as Hitler, Goebbels, and Hermann Göring appeared in public flanked by popular German film actors. The female stars in particular were expected to lend some glamour to the dry and male-dominated NSDAP events. Hitler's preferred dinner partners were the actresses Olga Tschechowa and Lil Dagover, and from 1935, Hermann Göring was married to the popular actress Emmy Sonnemann. The relationships of Goebbels to several female film stars are also notorious. Magda Goebbels left a screening of the film Die Reise nach Tilsit, because it seemed to her too close a telling of her husband's relationship with Lida Baarova, which had resulted in the actress being sent back to her native Czechoslovakia.[20]

Personal proximity to the political leaders became a determining factor for the career success of film actors. An informal system of listings decided how frequently an actor would be cast. The five categories extended from "to cast at all costs even without a vacancy" (for instance Zarah Leander, Lil Dagover, Heinz Rühmann) to "casting under no circumstances welcome".

How crucial the film stars were for the image of the National Socialist government is also evident from the tax benefits that Hitler decreed in 1938 for prominent film actors and directors. From that time on, they could deduct 40% of their income as professional expenses.

The Nazi film theorist Fritz Hippler wrote in his 1942 book Contemplations on Film-Making: "Enough has been written as to whether "celebritism" is beneficial or harmful—but one way or the other, it cannot be denied that throughout the world a main motive of people going to the movies is to see the faces they know and love" and Hippler suggested that the stars to be chosen for Nazi cinema should have "European standard" and at the same time appeal to the "Germans' ideal of beauty", so that Germans could identify with them.[21] Non-German actors in the Nazi cinema were, e. g., Zarah Leander, Marika Rökk, Lída Baarová, Pola Negri, Adina Mandlová, Johannes Heesters, Iván Petrovich, Laura Solari, Angelo Ferrari, Rossano Brazzi, Nikolay Fyodorovich Kolin, Boris Alekin (Russian), Igo Sym (Polish), Rosita Serrano (Chilean). The Russian Victor Tourjansky and the Hungarian Géza von Bolváry were popular non-German directors.

In 1944, Joseph Goebbels issued a now infamous list with "irreplaceable artists" called the Gottbegnadeten list, which included people such as Arno Breker, Richard Strauss, and Johannes Heesters.[22]

During World War II, German film stars supported the war effort by performing for the troops or by collecting money for the German Winter Relief Organization (Winterhilfswerk). Although most of the male stars were exempted from military service, some – such as the popular Heinz Rühmann – participated in the war as soldiers, often accompanied by newsreel film crews.

See also


  1. ^ Michaela Rethmeier: Die Funktion und Bedeutung Fritz Hipplers für das Filmschaffen im „Dritten Reich“, p. 25 (dissertation, University of Münster, 2006)
  2. ^ Original title: "Seele des Lichtspiels -- ein Bekenntnis zum Film", by Dr Walter Julius Bloem (1898-1945), Verlag Grethlein, Leipzig, 1922.
  3. ^ Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Page 526 (Translation by James Vincent Murphy).
  4. ^ Original title: "Im Banne des Films. Die Weltherrschaft des Kinos", by Dr. Hans Buchner (1896-1971), Boepple publishing house, Munich, 1927.
  5. ^ Geschichte des deutschen Films, edited by Wolfgang Jacobsen, Anton Kaes, Berlin, Stuttgart, Weimar, 1993, page 73.
  6. ^ ALLES LEBEN IST KAMPF,; accessed 7 April 2018.‹See Tfd›(in German)
  7. ^ Erbkrank,; accessed 7 April 2018.‹See Tfd›(in German)
  8. ^ Hans Traub, Der Film als politisches Machtmittel, Munich, 1932, page 29. Original German text: "Ohne Zweifel ist der Film als Sprache ein vortreffliches Mittel der Propaganda. Die Beeinflussung fordert von jeher solche Spracharten, die in der einfachen Erzählung einprägsame und bewegte Handlung gestalten. … Aus dem weiten Gebiet der Sprache aber, die unmittelbar durch technische und wirtschaftliche Vorgänge an den Empfänger herangetragen wird, ist die wirksamste Art das Laufbild. Es verlangt eine ständige Aufmerksamkeit; es ist voller Überraschungen im Wechsel von Handlung, Zeit und Raum; es ist unausdenkbar reich im Rhythmus der Gefühlssteigerung und der Gefühlsverdrängung."
  9. ^ Klaus Kreimeier: Die Ufa-Story. Geschichte eines Filmkonzerns. S. Fischer Verlag, 2002. ISBN 3596155754, pp. 309-10, Original, Goebbels: "Scham- und Geschmacklosigkeiten".
  10. ^ Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p. 13; ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  11. ^ Michaela Rethmeier: Die Funktion und Bedeutung Fritz Hipplers für das Filmschaffen im „Dritten Reich“, p. 194 (dissertation, University of Münster, 2006)
  12. ^ Same source, p. 224. Original in German: "nicht das bloße Erdichten, sondern das zweckmäßige Erdichten einen schöpferischen Geist beweise."
  13. ^ Emil Jannings: "Über den Film", „Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte“, Volume 147, June 1942, pp. 342-43.
  14. ^ a b Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p. 9; ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  15. ^ Source:
  16. ^ a b c Merziger 2014, p. 60.
  17. ^ Ursula Saekel: Der US-Film in der Weimarer Republik - ein Medium der "Amerikanisierung"?: Deutsche Filmwirtschaft, Kulturpolitik und mediale Globalisierung im Fokus transatlantischer Interessen. Verlag Schoeningh Ferdinand, 2011, ISBN 3506771744, p. 169, 255, 258
  18. ^ Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p2 ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  19. ^ Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p2-3 ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  20. ^ Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p86 ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  21. ^ Fritz Hippler: Betrachtungen zum Filmschaffen, 1942, p. 23,24,29. Original in German, Hippler: "über Wesen und Unwesen des Startums ist genug gesagt und geschrieben worden, aber Startum hin Startum her: es ist nicht zu leugnen, daß die Menschen der ganzen Welt ein Hauptmotiv ihres Filmbesuches in dem Wunsch sehen, ihnen bekannten und beliebten Gesichtern wiederzubegegnen"; "europäisches Format"; "deutschen Schönheitsideal".
  22. ^ Klee, Kulturlexikon, S. 227.


  • ‹See Tfd›(in German) Albrecht, Gerd (1969). Nationalsozialistische Filmpolitik. Munich: Hanser.
  • ‹See Tfd›(in German) Spiker, Jürgen (1975). Film und Kapital. Der Weg der deutschen Filmwirtschaft zum nationalsozialistischen Einheitskonzern. Berlin: Volker Spiess. ISBN 3-920889-04-5
  • Merziger, Patrick (2014). "Americanised, Europeanised or nationalised? The film industry in Europe under the influence of Hollywood, 1927–1968". In Nathaus, Klaus (ed.). Made in Europe: The Production of Popular Culture in the Twentieth Century. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 9781138794443.
This article is translated from its equivalent on the German Wikipedia
Benno von Arent

Benno von Arent (19 July 1898 – 14 October 1956) was a German film director, artist, architect, designer and a member of the Nazi Party and SS.

Das Erbe

Das Erbe ("The Inheritance") was a Nazi propaganda movie published in 1935. Produced by Harold Mayer under the aegis of the Nazi party's Office of Racial Policy and directed by Carl C. Hartmann, it aimed at legitimizing the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring ("Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses"), which allowed for sterilization. The movie is 12 minutes long, and was shown as part of several trailers in contemporary German movie theaters.

Der Kaiser von Kalifornien

The Kaiser of California, better known as "The Emperor of California" (German Der Kaiser von Kalifornien), is a 1936 film that has the distinction of being the first western film made in Nazi Germany. Some exterior scenes were even shot on location in the United States at Sedona, Arizona, the Grand Canyon and at Death Valley in California.

The film follows the life story of Johann Augustus Sutter, the owner of Sutter's Mill, famous as the birthplace of the great California Gold Rush of 1849.

While the basic story of Sutter's life is retained, the producers inserted some notable changes reflecting the political environment of the film's creation: though Sutter was a Swiss-German, the film emphasizes his German ethnicity and though he changed his name to John Sutter when he came to the United States, throughout the film he retains the name Johann Sutter.

The film opposes the "easy" money of gold-digging with the wealth and values created by hard work, as the Gold Rush eventually destroys Sutter's fortunes and creates social disintegration and the loss of solidarity and companionship.

In the final scene the aged and impoverished Sutter is shown in Washington, D.C., where he has a vision of America's future industrial might, seeing a land full of skyscrapers and factories.

Unlike most American Westerns of the 1930s, The Kaiser of California offers a sympathetic portrait of the Indians, whom Sutter respectfully befriends. In this it follows the Karl May tradition of German Western stories, which often featured noble Indians and German immigrants turned pioneers and gunmen.The film won the 1936 Mussolini Cup for best foreign film at the Venice Film Festival. It was screened as part of the "Venice Days" series at the 68th Venice International Film Festival in September 2011.

The film was written and directed by the Tyrolean Luis Trenker, who also starred as Johann Sutter. Trenker had previously directed Der verlorene Sohn (The Prodigal Son, 1934), the story of an Alpine immigrant in New York City, which is the only other film produced in Nazi Germany with scenes photographed on location in the United States.

Die Deutsche Wochenschau

Die Deutsche Wochenschau (The German Weekly Review) was the title of the unified newsreel series released in the cinemas of Nazi Germany from 1940 until the end of World War II. The coordinated newsreel production was set up as a vital instrument for the mass distribution of Nazi propaganda at war. Today the preserved Wochenschau short films make up a significant part of the audiovisual records of the Nazi era.

Drei Unteroffiziere

Drei Unteroffiziere (Three Sergeants) is a 1939 German film.

Made soon before the outbreak of the Second World War, the film - as its name suggests - depicts the lives of three German army sergeants. While the plot concentrates on the soldier characters' complicated love affairs rather than their battlefield exploits, it does extol camaraderie among soldiers - a staple theme of Nazi propaganda. The film concludes with the protagonists overcoming amorous jealousies which threatened to divide them, and eagerly embarking on a dangerous military task. This theme is well reflected in the film's poster, in whose foreground the three in uniform face their commanding officer while on the background appears the actress Gerda for whose love they had competed with each other.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany, Drei Unteroffiziere was included in the list of forbidden films, and nowadays its screening is only allowed for "special educational purposes".


Erbkrank (English: The Hereditary Defective) is a 1936 Nazi propaganda film.

Directed by Herbert Gerdes, it was one of six propagandistic movies produced by the "NSDAP, Reichsleitung, Rassenpolitisches Amt" or the Office of Racial Policy, from 1935 to 1937 to demonize people in Germany diagnosed with mental illness and mental retardation.

The goal was to gain public support for the T-4 Euthanasia Program then in the works. This film, as the others, was made with actual footage of patients in German psychiatric hospitals.

Adolf Hitler reportedly liked the film so much that he encouraged the production of the full-length film Opfer der Vergangenheit: Die Sünde wider Blut und Rasse (English: Victims of the Past: The Sin against Blood and Race). In 1937, Erbkrank was reportedly showing in nearly all Berlin film theaters.Prior to World War II, the film was distributed in America through the Pioneer Fund.

Frank Wisbar

Frank Wisbar (born Franz Wysbar 9 December 1899 – 17 March 1967) was a German film director and screenwriter. He directed more than 20 films between 1932 and 1967 in Germany and the United States, as well as amassing many television credits. He was a member of the jury at the 10th Berlin International Film Festival.


Heimkehr (English: "Homecoming") is a 1941 Nazi German anti-Polish propaganda film directed by Gustav Ucicky.It received the rare honor "Film of the Nation" in Nazi Germany, bestowed on films considered to have made an outstanding contribution to the national cause. Filled with heavy-handed caricature, it justifies extermination of Poles with a depiction of relentless persecution of ethnic Germans, who escape death only because of the German invasion.

Hitler – Beast of Berlin

Hitler, Beast of Berlin (1939) was one of the most popular "hiss and boo" films of the World War II era, based on the novel Goose Step by Shepard Traube (1907–1983).

Kolberg (film)

Kolberg is a 1945 German historical film directed by Veit Harlan. One of the last films of the Third Reich, it was intended as a Nazi propaganda piece to bolster the will of the German population to resist the Allies.

The film is based on the autobiography of Joachim Nettelbeck, mayor of Kolberg in Pomerania, and on a play drawn from the book by Paul Heyse. It tells the story of the defence of the besieged fortress town of Kolberg against French troops between April and July 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars. In reality, the city's defense, led by then-Lieutenant Colonel August von Gneisenau, held out until the war was ended by the Treaty of Tilsit. In the film, the French abandon the siege.

List of German films of 1933–1945

The Nazi German era lasted from Adolf Hitler's assumption of power on 30 January 1933 to Karl Dönitz's surrender at the end of World War II on 8 May 1945. While not as highly regarded as films of the preceding Weimar Republic era, the films of Nazi Germany, mainly made under control of Joseph Goebbels, hold a fascination for many, both as historical documents of one of the most important periods of 20th century history, as well as for their own artistic merit. While some of them are popular only within the Neo-Nazi subculture, comedies starring Heinz Rühmann rank among the favourites of all Germans, and the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl have been influential, though controversial.

A total of 1,084 feature films were shown in cinemas in Nazi Germany.

Peter Paul Brauer

Peter Paul Brauer (born 16 May 1899 in Elberfeld, died 28 April 1959 in Berlin) was a German film producer and film director.

In 1928, he became involved in film production in the Netherlands. That same year he returned to Germany and, over several years, produced several short films. After the takeover of the Nazis in March 1933, Brauer was production manager at the UFA. After 1938, he directed a number of feature films, mostly comedies.

Between April 1939 and November 1940 Brauer was production chief of Terra Film. At the beginning of 1940, Brauer was assigned by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to produce the anti-Semitic film Jud Süß (1940). Brauer assigned himself the task of directing the film; however, he ran into difficulties in casting. Frustrated at the delay, Goebbels removed him in favor of Veit Harlan.In the 1940s, Brauer concentrated on directing and collaborated on some screenplays. Brauer was a member of the Nazi Party.

Propaganda film

A propaganda film is a film that involves some form of propaganda. Propaganda films may be packaged in numerous ways, but are most often documentary-style productions or fictional screenplays, that are produced to convince the viewer of a specific political point or influence the opinions or behavior of the viewer, often by providing subjective content that may be deliberately misleading.Propaganda is the ability "to produce and spread fertile messages that, once sown, will germinate in large human cultures.” However, in the 20th century, a “new” propaganda emerged, which revolved around political organizations and their need to communicate messages that would “sway relevant groups of people in order to accommodate their agendas”. First developed by the Lumiere brothers in 1896, film provided a unique means of accessing large audiences at once. Film was the first universal mass medium in that it could simultaneously influence viewers as individuals and members of a crowd, which led to it quickly becoming a tool for governments and non-state organizations to project a desired ideological message. As Nancy Snow stated in her book, Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech and Opinion Control Since 9-11, propaganda "begins where critical thinking ends."


The Reichsfilmkammer (RFK; English: Reich Chamber of Film) was a statutory corporation controlled by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda that regulated the film industry in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945. Membership in the association was obligatory for everyone in the German Reich who wanted to work on films in any capacity; lack of membership meant in effect a ban on employment. Based in Berlin, the establishment of the RFK was an important element of the Gleichschaltung process and Nazi film policy.

S.A.-Mann Brand

S.A.-Mann Brand (Storm Trooper Brand) is a German film made around the time that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. It was released in mid-June 1933.

The film presents the story of a truck driver, Fritz Brand, who joins the Nazi Sturmabteilung to defend Germany against communist subversion orchestrated from Moscow. He persuades his social circle of the imminent danger and the need to support Hitler in the federal election.

A review in the New York Times noted favorably the film's production value and the absence of any anti-Semitic message, while also expressing contempt for its unsophisticated plot.

The Victory of Faith

Not to be confused with the 1829 oratorio "Der Sieg des Glaubens" composed by Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) to libretto by Johann Baptist Rousseau (1802-1867).Der Sieg des Glaubens (English: The Victory of Faith, Victory of Faith, or Victory of the Faith) (1933) is the first propaganda film directed by Leni Riefenstahl. Her film recounts the Fifth Party Rally of the Nazi Party, which occurred in Nuremberg from 30 August to 3 September 1933. The film is of great historic interest because it shows Adolf Hitler and Ernst Röhm on close and intimate terms, before Röhm was shot on the orders of Hitler during the Night of the Long Knives on 1 July 1934. All known copies of the film were destroyed on Hitler's orders, and it was considered lost until a copy turned up in the 1990s in the United Kingdom.

The form of the film is very similar to her later and much more expansive film of the 1934 rally, Triumph of the Will. Der Sieg des Glaubens is Nazi propaganda for the Nazi Party, which funded and promoted the film, which celebrates the victory of the Nazis in achieving power when Hitler assumed the role of Chancellor of Germany in February 1933.

Veit Harlan

Veit Harlan (22 September 1899 – 13 April 1964) was a German film director and actor.

Victims of the Past

Victims of the Past (original German title: Opfer der Vergangenheit: Die Sünde wider Blut und Rasse (English: Victims of the Past: The Sin against Blood and Race)) was a Nazi propaganda film made in 1937. This movie was a sequel to Erbkrank (Hereditarily Ill), which showed horrific images of lunatics in German asylums in order to bolster public support for the planned T-4 Euthanasia Program for the mentally ill. The practices of providing institutions and care for the victims of hereditary diseases are described as transgressing the law of natural selection, and the expense of such care is depicted as drain on healthy workers, and preventing the use of such money to help healthy Germans make better lives.It was shown in every cinema in Germany. Adolf Hitler reportedly liked it.

Like the other five movies depicting the condition of the mentally ill in Germany, the movie was produced by the NS-Rasse und Politisches Amt (National Socialist Racial and Political Office). However, this film was the only one produced with sound.


In German film history, an Überläufer (literally defector) is a film that was in production under the Third Reich but only completed and premiered after the end of the Second World War. The vast majority of such films are romantic comedies with no reference to the political and military situation of the time.

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